Are antibiotics safe for children?

Most children will develop three respiratory infections every year. Viral infections, such as a cold or flu, will run their course and eventually heal on their own. However, bacterial infections, such as ear infections, strep throat, and pneumonia, must be treated with antibiotics to avoid the risk of them developing into more serious health problems.

Before the 1936 discovery sulfanilamide and the 1941 discovery of penicillin, bacterial infections often transmuted into more serious conditions. Ear infections sometimes spread to the brain, causing meningitis. Strep throat sometimes turned into rheumatic fever. And pneumonia, left untreated, sometimes became an infection of the bloodstream, resulting in death.

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved approximately 60 antibiotics for use in children. American doctors dispense an estimated 30 million prescriptions annually for the treatment of pediatric ear infections alone.

Antibiotics have greatly extended our life spans and improved the quality of our lives, but for some patients those same antibiotics can be agents of destruction and death. A number of antibiotics have been weakened or rendered ineffective by inappropriate and excessive use throughout the years, prompting researchers to find new, more potent and effective antibiotics.

The FDA requires drug companies to thoroughly test newly developed antibiotics on adult subjects before it will approve them for use in children and infants. Because children are still developing their organs, they are naturally much more sensitive to antibiotics and other drugs.

However, when the FDA fails to thoroughly examine a drug for safety or “turns a blind eye to serious safety concerns,” as one legislator alleges it did, then the public is put at risk. And of course, the most susceptible patients are the children. Parents who worry about exposing their children to the risk of drug-induced liver injury should talk to their doctor and express their concerns about using certain types of antibiotics.